DENVER – Last week when the January 2011 US beef exports results were announced, South Korea was once again among the fast-growing markets, according to the US Meat Export Federation. US beef exports to that national totaled approximately 12,000 metric tons valued at $49.2 million – an increase of more than 60% in volume and 80% in value over a year ago.

Contrary to reports in the international media, the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) crisis in South Korea is not a major factor in the recent surge of US beef exports to that country. Jihae Yang, USMEF Korea director, said the increase in export activity is due to a sharp spike in consumer demand, which was rolling along before the November 2010 FMD outbreak.

South Korea’s swine industry has been hit very hard by the FMD crisis, Yang said. Approximately 35% of the nation’s swine herd has already been culled. As a result, the culling may result in an increase in pork exports to South Korea from the US, as well as pork exporters in Europe, Canada and Chile.

South Korea’s government has also opened a duty-free tariff rate quota (TRQ) for imported pork that is expected to provide a boost for pork from all competitors. Regarding US pork, the TRQ will primarily benefit cuts such as picnics, which are used as raw material for pork processing.

“Presently, the South Korean FMD crisis is not a significant part of the South Korean cattle industry,” she said. “The South Korean government culled less than 5% of the total cattle population. So there is still a lot of domestic beef available in the market. US beef’s market recovery started far before the Korean FMD crisis started. FMD is not the major factor of the US beef increase.”

US pork exports to South Korea are also up substantially over one year ago. This is partly due to the FMD situation, which also led the South Korean government to create a duty-free tariff rate quota for imported pork, Yang said.

“Pork has a different aspect because FMD hit the South Korean pork industry hard,” Yang said. “Currently, they South Korean government culled 35% of the total hog population. So, the raw material market and foodservice market were both hit hard by the FMD crisis. US pork has a great strength in the process sector because we are the biggest exporter of the raw material.”